An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child

The BCP (p. 439) states that after the birth or adoption of a child, the parents and other family members should come to the church to be welcomed by the congregation and give thanks to God. It is desirable that this be done at a Sunday service. The BCP provides a form for A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child (pp. 440-445). It may follow the prayers of the people preceding the offertory at the eucharist. At Morning or Evening Prayer, it may take place before the close of the office. At the proper time, the celebrant invites the parents and other family members to present themselves before the altar. The BCP provides forms of address for the celebrant that are appropriate for the birth of a child or for an adoption. The form for an adoption also includes a formal inauguration of the new relationship. In response to a question by the celebrant, the parents take the child for their own. If the child is old enough to answer, the child accepts the woman and man as mother and father. The service continues with an Act of Thanksgiving, which includes the Magnificat, or Ps 116, or Ps 23. After a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing bestowed on the family in the gift of a child (BCP, p. 443), the celebrant may add one or more additional prayers, including a prayer of thanks for a safe delivery, a prayer for the parents, a prayer for a child not yet baptized, or a prayer for a child already baptized. This form concludes with a threefold blessing of the family. This trinitarian blessing recalls that God the Father adopts us as his children by baptism, that God the Son sanctified a home at Nazareth, and that God the Holy Spirit has made the church one family (BCP, p. 445). A shorter form of this service may be used, especially in a hospital or at home. If the shorter form is used, the celebrant may begin with the Act of Thanksgiving, or with the prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing bestowed on the family in the gift of a child. A passage of scripture may first be read. The BCP identifies Lk 2:41-51 and Lk 18:15-17 as appropriate readings for this service. The service also includes a rubric that calls upon the minister of the congregation to instruct the people concerning the duty of Christian parents to provide for the well-being of their families and for all persons to make wills to arrange for the disposal of their temporal goods, including bequests for religious and charitable uses if possible (BCP, p. 445).

Historically, there were prayers of ritual purification for women who had been through childbirth. This purification was also known as the “churching” of women. The service of purification was done at the entrance of the church in the Sarum rite. Similarly, the 1549 Prayer Book included “The Order of the Purification of Women.” This rite was known as “The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women” in the 1552 BCP, and in subsequent Prayer Books through the 1928 BCP. The 1979 BCP focuses on thanksgiving for the gift of a child, and suggests no ritual impurity associated with childbirth. with childbirth.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.